|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
Larger Than Life
"... Horribly pretty. And apparently when he was a child, his mother used regularly to rub him all over with olive oil... For the soft skin, you see. Fascinating, isn't it?"
Christopher is telling him about some Italian chef bloke who was on his radio show. He's not sure why. Russell didn't even know Biggins had a radio show. Did he? He might have forgotten.
"Hm," he says. "Wouldn't that smell, d'you reckon?"
"Well, that's just what we said! Although frankly, I can think of worse things to smell of. I'm a big fan of olive oil, you know."
"Oh, yes." Christopher clocks Russell's expression. "No, seriously, I am!"
"Right... 'Ere --" Russell clutches conspiratorially at Christopher's arm, blithely ignoring that mythical space people call 'personal'. (Irritation flashes through him. It's not theirs. You can't own space.) "'Ere, d'you reckon he still does it? Did you ask who he gets to rub it in for him these days?"
"Oh, Russell, stop it..." Christopher bats ineffectually at him, like a kitten with a ball of string.
"You should have got in there and had a good old sniff, found out."
"Believe me..." Christopher sips his champagne. "You don't want to start thinking along those lines when you're doing live radio."
"Oh," says Russell, innocently. "I dunno..."
Christopher laughs, delighted. "Darling, it was a Sunday morning!"
"Mm, bet that don't normally stop you, eh?" says Russell, and winks. And frowns. Christopher always makes him feel like he's stepped into a Carry On film. Oh, for Christ's sake! What's he thinking? His life is a bloody Carry On film!
What the fuck is this party, anyway? Buggered if he can remember. Somebody is carrying vol-au-vents around on a tray. He finds himself swiping one as they go past, although he's not hungry, and he doesn't know what's in it.
"Biggins," he says. "This party's got vol-au-vents."
"I know... tragic, isn't it?"
"I suppose it's like what parties get instead of colds, innit? Or the clap. Haha. Ooh, I got a nasty case of the vol-au-vents... Well, don't give it to me, dear!"
He holds up the puffy, greyish specimen and observes it. It makes him feel bleak.
"Are you all right?" asks Christopher with concern. "You don't seem quite your normal effervescent self tonight."
"Yeah, think I've got a migraine comin' on," confesses Russell.
"Oh, poor you!"
It's later. Russell is sitting on a sofa. His head aches and he's bored. He's so bored he could just fucking... die. Right here on this sofa, at this party. He wishes he'd never been born, so he wouldn't have had to live to be here, sitting on this sofa. Ugh, the sofa! The sofa is just an example of everything that is fucked and shit and fucked about the world. He is very, very angry about the sofa.
I am writhing internally, he thinks, solemnly. Internally and eternally. Like snakes. Like the world is full of snakes.
A gorgeous woman hoves into view. She smiles at him, but she doesn't come over. Nobody is coming over to talk to Russell, because Russell is being extremely unpleasant to anyone who tries it. Word seems to have got round. He smiles a mean, sarcastic smile at the gorgeous woman, and hates himself, and the universe, and everything in it.
There's Christopher, on the other side of the room, chatting with some woman -- some 'great friend', probably. Everyone Christopher knows is a 'great friend'. But... he always looks like he's having a such a brilliant time. He's all jolly and kind and over the top, like Father Christmas. Larger than life, that's him. Russell loves people like that, because he understands what it's like. Like life is a bad fit -- too small, too ordinary. Too grey. Too vol-au-venty.
Russell thinks, It's tragic to be Russell. If only people knew. Annoying drunk people are laughing and he wants to kill them, or... or say really cutting things about them onstage. Maybe one day, if he works at it, he'll be so brilliantly cutting he'll actually be able to stab people with his comedy. That'd be quite good.
But he won't kill Christopher. He will spare Christopher, because Christopher's so warm and soft and cuddly, and he's got fluffy white hair on the top of his head, like a huge baby duck. Christopher will be allowed to live, come the revolution. Russell will supply him with dancing boys and olive oil.
His anger's on the move. He can feel it shifting now, bleeding into shallow sentimentality, toppling over like a huge dark tower, melting and pouring inside him, flooding him, wet-yourself warm. He thinks he could weep for days, just thinking about Christopher's fluffy duck head.
He drinks his fizzy water, and wonders, all of a sudden, if other people take drugs so they can feel like this. Funny. He always used to do it so he could stop.
Eventually Russell admits to himself that the reason he keeps bumping into Christopher tonight is that he's been following him around. He trails in the wake of Christopher's warm Father Christmassy bulk and nut-brown laugh. He doesn't want to talk to anyone else tonight, he decides, only Christopher. People say his name as he goes past: "Russell!" "Hey, Russell!" He doesn't care, he ignores them. He'll apologise later, probably. He'll be genuinely sorry. That'll make everything all right.
He wants to say something to Christopher, although he's not sure what. He wants to talk and talk, to lash out, to be outrageous and rude, to shock. Or he wants to say, 'Oh, Christopher, I love you, you national treasure, you. After the glorious revolution I'll build you a palace out of solid gold, which will be completely against the all the ideals of the revolution, but I don't care, because you're Christopher Biggins, and there'll always be an England while you're in our hearts!'
But when he catches up with Christopher, all he says is, "Have I ever told you how much I admired your portrayal of Adam Painting in Rentaghost?"
"Yes, darling," says Christopher, and looks at Russell steadily. "Several times. Why don't you come and sit down in this charming alcove -- you look rather upset."
"I'm not upset," says Russell, and throws himself on a chair. "I'm me." He heaves a sigh, and closes his eyes.
Christopher talks to him about Princess Anne and Joan Collins, and it's soothing.
"Not together though?" Russell puts in, and opens an eye. He just wants to clarify. "Not the two of them together?"
"No, no, not together. Anyway--"
"Not together in a -- in a sexy way, like. In a sauna or anything?"
"No, certainly not!" Christopher sounds shocked.
"Yeah, I just wanted to clarify."
"Yes... Well, anyway, as I was saying, and oh dear, it was the funniest thing..."
Russell lets Christopher's voice wash over him, and he thinks about Joan Collins and Princess Anne in a sauna. He can't help it, they're in his head now. Sometimes he's just... compelled.
It's like, sometimes you look at people and you think about what they'd look like when they were having sex, and it's not like you really want to, you just can't help it. Course, some people, you know exactly what they'd be like, they might as well be doing it right in front of you, it's so obvious. Which is nice. He's not knocking that, it's led to some quite nice things happening to old Russ, after all. But...
It's the other ones. The Princess Annes of this world. Some old dear standing at a bus stop. The postman. That physics teacher when you were fourteen, who had big sweat patches under his arms when he wrote on the blackboard. They're the ones who fascinate and compel. You don't want to know -- you shouldn't --but you can't help wondering...
Russell likes thinking about things that aren't allowed. The Queen's tits. Princess Anne In Lesbian Sauna Romp.
He looks at Christopher -- dear Chris, dear sweet fluffy Christopher Biggins -- and imagines his naked doughy flesh, jiggling and shiny with sweat. He wonders what Christopher looks like when he's fucking and being fucked, about the shapes his face might make, contorted and stretched. He thinks about Christopher talking dirty, and about Christopher's genitals and his arse. He is repelled and amused and slightly turned on, and all the time he's smiling and nodding along with Christopher's anecdote. Russell horrifies himself. He should be ashamed. If only he actually were.
"... and of course, what she'd really said was, 'I'm afraid I've been sick in your wig'..."
Wigs. Gloves. Handcuffs. Blowjobs. He really should stop this, he's getting all mixed up. He's a terrible person. He's a pure bloody sexy genius, and people have no right to hurt his feelings. He hates himself.
"Biggins," he declares, suddenly and to no purpose. "You're lovely. You're like a lovely gay vicar."
"Oh, do you think so?" Christopher looks pleased. "I always rather wanted to be a vicar."
"You could hear my confession," says Russell. "I could tell you all my sins. They're ever so interesting, my sins, you'd like them."
"Well, no, not really, dear -- I'm an Anglican. It's frowned upon."
"Sure? I 'ave been very bad," says Russell in his Dot Cotton voice, and bats his eyelids like a demure schoolgirl. He doesn't mean it, though, not any more. Just now, he doesn't mean a word of it. Christopher giggles, and Russell smiles, and thinks, I am sitting here and imagining what it would be like to have sex with Christopher Biggins when he's got up as Widow Twankey, in a dress and a wig, and I am imagining this because I can, because it's funny and stupid and I like it. And I don't care. Because I am Russell and I can do whatever I bloody well like.
"Anyway, I think everybody knows by now."
"Knows what?" Russell is startled. He's lost track of the conversation.
"Well, how naughty you are! You're always talking about it, after all -- you wrote a whole book about it."
"I did do that, yeah."
"I shouldn't imagine there's much left to confess, is there?"
Russell smirks. "No... fair point."
It's not quite true, though, is it? There's always stuff left in there, inside your head. You can spend your whole life trying to empty it, to get all the things out in the open, lay them out in the sunlight, in the fresh air. All the rotten things, the embarrassing things, the rank and fearsome objects that need to be seen and judged and made less frightening. You keep on pulling them out, forcing people to look and listen and laugh. But there are still the bits that get stuck, that you can't scrape off, like scraps of food that fell down the back of the fridge. It's just part of the human condition, that -- having bits of yourself that fester and go sour in the dark. It's all right. It's awful.
"Oh," sighs Christopher, and settles his weight comfortably in his chair. Around and about, somewhere, the party begins to wind down. "You know, it's funny, I was just thinking about the first time we met, do you remember? That was at a party, of course. Can't remember whose, off-hand, but then it was a good few years ago now..."
Russell thinks. "Was it one of them times when I was out of my head on crack?"
"Yes, yes, I believe you were!"
"Then no," says Russell.
"Oh, you do, come on now..."
"I'm joking, course I do." He grins. "Ah, they was good times, Biggins. Good times..."
"You tried to slash your wrists on an ice sculpture."
"Yeah... fun times... I still say I could have done it, an' all."
Christopher looks at Russell, and his face is so big and wobbly and kind, that Russell does indeed feel deeply ashamed of his horrible brainbox and its filthy contents for at least a quarter of a second.
"But you were so unhappy," Christopher says.
Russell rolls his eyes. "I'm so unhappy now, Biggins! Look around you. There are vol-au-vents, for Christ's sake!" It's true. Vol-au-vents. Sofas. Beautiful girls. The world is unbearable.
"Oh, but you're much better now," says Christopher firmly. "So much better. And I'm pleased about that, because you're my friend -- I do consider you a great friend, Russell -- and I don't like to see my friends unhappy. I don't like to see anybody unhappy, but particularly not my friends."
Russell looks up at Christopher. "Thank you," he says, with great sincerity. "You're very kind to say so."
Russell closes his eyes and leans against Christopher's large and comforting shoulder. He thinks about how sad he is just now, at this very moment, how deeply sunk in misery. A great, wide sea of it, lapping at him, washing him along on its sordid little waves.
It's ok, though. Because Christopher's right, he is better. He's better at being sad.
"How's your poor head?" asks Christopher with concern. "Horrid things, migraines. Are you sure you wouldn't you rather be at home?"
"Not really," says Russell. "It'd only be there, too."
Russell rubs a hand over his face, opens his eyes and blinks. The party is still sort of going on, unless of course it's another party. How would you tell the difference, anyway? He sits up.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"About one and a half minutes, I'd say," replies Christopher.
"Oh. We've still got the same prime minister then?"
"As far as I know."
Russell smiles lazily at nothing in particular. Wonderful what one and a half minutes of sleep can do. He can feel little evil pinpricks of mischief beginning to poke their way through the heavy layers of self absorption, like crocuses in spring. What the fuck was all that about, anyway? Better at being sad? God, he really can be a complete twat sometimes. He looks at Christopher, leans over and gently rests a hand on Christopher's thigh.
"Biggins," he says, in his best seductive voice. "There's something I've been meaning to ask. Would you like to have it off with me?"
Christopher starts, recovers, and laughs uncertainly. "Russell, has somebody put something in your water? You really are being quite strange tonight."
"Well..." Russell considers. "Thing is, it's not so much an offer, as an objective question. I'm interested. I got a curious nature, you see. Oh, and then there's that other thing where I'm completely self-obsessed. So -- would you? Want to, I mean?"
It's just a joke, really. It's not like he cares about the answer. Is it? Why should he care? Why does he?
Christopher leans forward, dislodging Russell's hand from his leg, and carefully places his empty champagne glass on the table in front of them. He settles back in his seat and surveys the dwindling crowd of tinkly, sparkly partygoers.
"Russell," he says. "You are quite adorable, it's true. And ridiculously charming, and terribly sexy, although I'm sure it's very bad for you to keep hearing about it. But, darling, I'm a happily married man and you're... well, you're you."
Russell waits. "Yeah, and?"
Christopher laughs a round, warm, sherry-coloured laugh. "Well, of course I would! Obviously. Now, do stop being silly. Make yourself useful and go and fetch me a drink."
Russell smiles and stands up.
"Thanks," he says. He feels something akin to shyness, if such a thing were still possible, which it isn't. Maybe it's just his old friend, shame, back for a visit. "Yeah, I just wondered, really."
And now the world is warm and giving again. Funny the way it does that. From shadow to sunlight in the flick of a wrist. He picks up Christopher's empty glass from the table.
It's plain old narcissism, much of it, he shouldn't wonder. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, he is Russell, he is loved, he is lusted after, he's not just a horrible, malformed, poisonous thing, dripping with filth and badness. Not just that, anyway. People want him. People approve of him. People honestly think Russell's all right. So it must be true, mustn't it?
Oh, Christopher Biggins, he thinks. I could very much kiss you, I honestly could. And you were so good on Rentaghost.
He stands and fiddles with the champagne glass, reluctant to head back into a world of vol-au-vents.
"Erm," he says. "Biggins, I just want you to know that after the revolution, I'll make sure you have all the olive oil you want. A lifetime's supply! I shall spare no expense!"
"Oh, how sweet," says Christopher, and Russell thinks his smile is like a benediction, or something.